The region around Almaty is the most interesting for first-time travelers to Kazakhstan. It offers up a sample of all the types of natural wonder Kazakhstan has to offer, easily accessed and within a reasonable distance. This is a loop that takes in most of the highlights around Almaty – it will take you 1 to 2 weeks to complete, depending on your travel style.
We start off in Almaty, still the nation’s cultural and commercial capital and Kazakhstan’s most attractive city. From here, head west into the steppe. You’ll get good views of the Tien Shan range as it stretches out all the way to Uzbekistan. First stop is at the UNESCO-protected petroglyph site of Tamgaly.
Keep going north and find yourself in an unexpected sand dune desert; this is Taukum. After reaching Topar, head down towards Kapchagai, stopping off at the Buddhist carvings at Tamgaly Tas. Or, make a shortcut at Tamgaly and head straight for Kapchagai.
Then it’s straight into Altyn Emel, perhaps as close as you are going to get to an African safari in Eurasia. Head down towards the jaw-dropping Charyn canyon. Get off the road again to visit the mountain lakes of Kolsai. Turn back, and return to Almaty, but not before seeing the Assy Plateau, Turgen gorge and Lake Esik on your way.